By Mick Woodcock
What would a person do if they were transported back in time to 1867-1868 in Prescott, Arizona? A great many things would be very strange, with no cell phones, internet or Netflix. Worse than that, there would be no electricity. In fact, there would be no electricity anywhere in town and there would not be until the 1890s.
Culture shock would be in full effect. What to do? Back then, people talked and read books, periodicals and newspapers for a way to pass the time and keep up on what was going on. Those who wanted actual “entertainment” would have to wait for something to happen, or join a local club.
Prescottonians also watched the newspaper for notices of an event. As an example, they would have, no doubt, wanted to attend the Prescott Brass Band concert reported in the January 26, 1866 edition of the Arizona Miner. It stated, “At the close of the concert Judge Berry expressed the thanks of the audience, and the hope that another concert would soon be given, in which we heartily join. The Prescott Brass Band is an institution that our citizens will be [illegible] to encourage in every way.” Apparently, the wishes of the audience were not followed, as there is not further mention of a band concert for several years.
The theater was also popular. In January and February of 1867, McGinley’s Concert and Dramatic Troupe came to town. They played in the building that was leased for the legislature to meet in, as it was the only available space large enough to accommodate this type of activity. Admission was $1.50 in currency, which would be roughly $30 in 2020 money. Although they gave two completely different shows while they were here, they left with no prospect of anything else coming behind them.
By December, the O’Neal Dramatic Association was advertising a performance at Camp Verde over in the Verde Valley. Only a two-day trip by horse and buggy, one-way, this might have been a chance to experience more theater. This must have inspired the local troops at Fort Whipple, because in April 1868, the newspaper announced the formation of the Devin Variety Troupe at the Fort, and their performance would have been only a short drive or a longer walk to see it.
By July it was advertised that the “PRESCOTT THEATRE. WILL BE OPENED BY THE Camp Whipple Dramatic Association. FOR A SHORT SEASON, Under the patronage of the Officers of the Post and the Citizens of Prescott and Vicinity.” Top billing went to two plays that were supposedly playing in principle U.S. theaters, “Lottery Ticket” and “Lend Me Five Shillings.”
Ballroom and other dancing also appealed to some of the population. Those who loved dancing joined the Elysian Club, which was first mentioned in September 1867, although they appear to have been organized for a while before that. The club sponsored monthly dances, and the Arizona Miner described some of the dances as “mazourkas, [sic] schottisches, redowas, etc.” in a January 4th, 1868 article. The Elysian Club was so well organized it was able to pay for building its own dancing hall, which opened in May 1868.
Men possibly interested in trying to improve their dancing abilities to be better partners at the Elysian Club dances formed the Prescott Dancing Club on February 3, 1868. It had fourteen original charter members with total membership limited to twenty. Initiation fee was ten dollars (about $175 in 2020 dollars) and monthly dues of two dollars. Practice was on Monday and Thursday evenings.
Hopefully, a modern person would be amused by a trip back to early Prescott and have a greater appreciation for what their ancestors did before they had electricity.
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